Politics

Horrendous Honeymoon

It's hard to imagine a worse start than the one Nevada's governor is off to.
by | May 2007

The property-tax reform of 2005 is one of several good decisions Nevada has made over the past few years. But one that isn't working out so well is the decision last November to elect Jim Gibbons as governor. Gibbons can't stay away from bad news. The FBI is looking into allegations that while serving in Congress, he took illegal payments to help a friend win big-money defense contracts. That's bad enough, but it falls against a backdrop of other scandals and managerial misfires that have dogged the governor since he took office early this year.

Toward the end of the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, the 62-year-old Republican had to answer charges that he had assaulted a waitress at a restaurant and hired an illegal immigrant as a nanny. In response, Gibbons set up a legal defense fund--and the propriety of the fund itself was soon questioned by Nevada's secretary of state.

So far, none of the controversies has led to legal action. Las Vegas police said there wasn't enough evidence to file an assault charge, and the secretary of state ultimately decided the legal defense fund was acceptable after all. Gibbons has proclaimed his innocence in the contracting scandal.

But the constant flow of accusations--theWall Street Journal reported that Gibbons' wife was paid $35,000 by a company that he helped to secure a $4 million no-bid defense contract--has been a huge distraction as Gibbons seeks to govern the state. His approval rating has tanked below 30 percent and the phrase "bunker mentality" is heard a lot around Carson City.

Gibbons has not managed to shake off the bad news--and the calls from bloggers and columnists that he resign or be recalled--through performance of his official duties. His transition was widely criticized. His first budget required dozens of administrative amendments to clean up mistakes. He backtracked from his original energy policy ideas and has had difficulty launching his top initiative, a $60 million education plan.

Many governors take office hoping for a honeymoon; Gibbons went straight into a seven-year itch. "He was in big trouble before the contracting scandal happened, in terms of his relevance to the political process," says Jon Ralston, a Las Vegas Sun columnist. "He hasn't made too many right steps."

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